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Emily Dobbs: I’m losing Found111, but here’s what I’ve learned

In autumn last year, when I made the decision to take on a found space for as long as it lasted, I barely stopped to think about the challenges. I was so excited by the opportunity that Soho Estates had given me – I could programme the venue and produce my own shows at the same time. Running a space that was teetering on the edge of dereliction was surely just a matter of working really hard and pulling in a few favours?

Twelve months later, I can say that this is definitely true. I’ve worked harder than I ever have in my life and built a hugely valuable network of supporters and advocates around me that have enabled Found111 to become the success story it is. Running a found space has taught me to be enormously resourceful, scouring eBay for set elements, scavenging through salvage yards at weekends… literally every element has had to be ‘found’ somewhere and it becomes an overriding obsession that, as each production has been confirmed, I wanted to make it as exciting and ambitious as the last.

Central St Martins
Central St Martins

One of the most exciting parts of running a found space has been the ability to reinvent the venue each time and surprise our loyal audiences. The Dazzle [1]and Fool for Love [2] used a thrust stage, Unfaithful a traverse and Bug was staged on a variation of a thrust; almost in the round. We have had to stage each production around a central weight-bearing pillar that has posed its own unique challenge, as has the size of the backstage areas, and even the logistics of how the cast reach the dressing rooms on the floor below. However, rather than see these as limitations, we have used them as vital parts of the creative process that have forced us to think outside the norm.

Now, as we look to the end of our season with the classic play Fool for Love (which runs until December 17), I’m focusing on the next chapter of the Found journey and where that might take us. Found111 was an absolutely blank canvas with no infrastructure whatsoever, but a hugely creative history that profoundly influenced the work that was staged there. That, combined with the central location, was what attracted me to it as a venue. This means there are no rules for the next Found, though experience says a central West End location has been critical to Found111’s success. We hope to find a similarly successful relationship as the one we have had with Soho Estates and are currently talking to local stakeholders as well as private companies.

It will be an emotional day when we say goodbye to Found111, but the physical elements aren’t important, we will be stripping back and returning the space to its original empty shell while we continue our journey to find the next space and all of the exciting challenges that this will present. This is why I’m so keen to retain the Found name with whatever door number we end up residing at next, because Found isn’t about the physical space, it’s about an ethos and a state of mind.